Applying teaching skills to business

I’ve really been happy to see how much my teaching skills have transferred to a business context. Employees are in some ways a lot like students. You need to teach them certain skills, motivate them to practice the things you teach them, and ideally, help them learn to be self-sufficient and improve themselves. When we have a new policy that we want to implement it, simply recognizing the implementation as a teaching-related challenge is a big step already. Then I try to use my teaching skills that I learned at LaGuardia and elsewhere to train employees, and even to help some employees learn how to train other employees.

Excited after the first day of teaching

Today was my first day of teaching for the spring semester. I have a very different schedule this semester from last semester. Last semester, I had three courses, and I had requested that they be restricted to two days per week so that I wouldn’t have to come in as many days. In previous years at other institutions, that strategy had worked well to help me organize my time. However, I never taught more than two courses at once. Here at LaGuardia, teaching three long classes on the same day proved to be overwhelming, especially considering that I had to move my office hours to a third day and often ended up coming in a fourth day anyway to attend meetings, grade, prepare course materials, or do administrative work.

So I am happy that I have only one course each day this semester. I am teaching two courses this semester. Precalculus (Math 200) meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 8AM, and Elementary Algebra (Math 96) meets on Mondays and Wednesdays at 9:15 AM. (Each class meets with me a total of five hours per week.) Then on Fridays I have the set theory seminar at 10AM at the Graduate Center, or occasionally a faculty seminar at LaGuardia at 9AM where we will prepare to teach a seminar for first year LaGuardia students. I think that will be cool, because I really enjoyed my first year seminar as an undergraduate student at Grinnell.

This morning schedule is a big change for me; I have been a total night owl for the last seven years at least, rarely getting up much before noon. But I think it will be good for my health to wake up more with the sun. It might be a rough adjustment period, but it will be worthwhile. As a bonus, if all goes well, I can leave work by mid to late afternoon most days and be able to go out in the city some weekday evenings for dinner or a show. (If all doesn’t go well, I’ll be buried in grading, course preparation, administrative work, etc. and rarely get out of here until late anyway. But I am optimistic that it will be better than that.) Another nice benefit to the schedule is that I can conveniently make myself available for 45 minutes worth of office hours four days per week, so that students have a better opportunity to see me.

The elementary algebra students seem like a good group. They really seemed to appreciate the activity of sharing their feelings towards math and their expectations for the course. The videos didn’t seem to be as effective; only a few students commented on them, but the initial discussion before the videos was quite fruitful. A few students told me that they hate math, but many, I think a majority though I didn’t count, came in with positive attitudes towards math. Now it is my responsibility to help them to maintain these positive attitudes and to work hard and succeed in the class. I’m up for the challenge.

Why learn math?

Last fall, I noticed that a major problem for many of my students, especially my basic students, was a lack of motivation to study math. So I spent a few hours today looking for some motivational articles and videos on the topic. I plan to show this motivational material to students on the first day of class (the spring semester starts in the beginning of March at LaGuardia) and then have them discuss it. Here’s the best of what I found: two videos and one article. If any of my readers have additional suggestions for motivational material, I’d be very interested. I think it’s really important to get students feeling motivated from the beginning of the semester.


LaGuardia Wins $2.9 Million “First in the World” grant

Excerpted from an email from President Mellow:

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced that LaGuardia was selected to receive a $2.9 million “First in the World” grant from the Obama Administration and the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) to fund our student success initiatives.

This project grant will allow us to:

●   Support thousands of high-risk students as they move from LaGuardia’s non-credit programs to academic enrollment.

●   Integrate new discipline-based curriculum with co-curricular innovation to launch more than 20,000 new students towards graduation as part of our new First Year Experience seminar.

●   Transform advisement for all LaGuardia students by training and activating College-wide faculty/staff/peer mentor teams.

For more information about our grant check out LaGuardia’s press release–Department-of-Education/

This was freaky

I’m currently teaching a unit on probability. One of the homework problems that I wrote was roughly follows. Consider the experiment of drawing four cards without replacement from a thoroughly shuffled deck of cards. What is the probability that the first card is a heart, the second is a diamond, the third is a heart, and the fourth is a spade?

A student, Michael, came into my office for help on the homework problems. While he was asking about various problems, I was shuffling a deck of cards. When we got to the problem given above, I first asked him for his intuition about the problem –was the probability likely or unlikely. He recognized that it was extremely unlikely. Then I used the deck of cards to illustrate the problem. So, I draw a card from the deck. I asked, “What’s the probability that it’s a heart?” “13/52” he answered. I drew a card from the top of the deck. It was a heart. “How about that, it was actually a heart,” I said. “What’s the probability that the next card is a diamond?” “13/51”. I drew the next card. It was a diamond. Wow. “Okay, what’s the probability that the next card is a heart?” “12/50”. I drew the next card. It was a heart! At this point we were pretty surprised. Michael made some comment about he really hoped the next card wouldn’t be a spade. I drew the next card . . . it was a spade! Weird.

The probability of this happening . . . about 0.4%.

Of course, this far from the first time that I had illustrated an experiment like this, so it’s not so surprising that eventually a coincidence would occur eventually. But still, it was pretty exciting.

First day of class for the spring semester!

The first day of class for the spring semester went great! I’m teaching two sections of math for liberal arts. We’ll be covering geometry, set theory, logic, counting theory, probability, and statistics. The course is primarily intended for students with weak mathematical backgrounds who do not intend to major in the sciences or math.

At the end of class in one of the sections, two of the students told me they were excited for the class, and one said that I gave the best introduction of all her professors that day.

The cap on my classes was 100 students each, but I ended up with twenty-some in one section and thirty-some in the other section. So we have this big classroom with a microphone and TV screens so students at the back can see, and I just have everyone sit towards the front teach it like a regular class. The smaller class size will sure make things easier when it comes to grading, and while I will be missing out on the skill-building opportunity of teaching a bigger class, I prefer having a smaller class.

I’ve divided the tests and homework problems into easy, medium, and hard problems. It’s possible to get passing grades answering just the easy and medium problems on the homework and just the easy problems on the test. But to get an A, one has to answer the hard problems, which are substantially more involved and require more critical thinking. That way, I hope that every student can be challenged at their own level.

I got a lot of my teaching preparation done for the whole semester over winter break, as well as almost all of my academic job applications for the current hiring cycle, so I don’t think I’ll feel like I’m scrambling to keep up all semester, as I did last semester.

Calculus Teaching for Fall 2013

I am teaching two sections of Calculus 2 this fall. It’s my first time teaching calc 2. I am trying to incorporate some suggestions in my teaching given to me by various colleagues, including Joel Hamkins and Bill Kalies. These suggestions include staying standing up as much as possible, marking participation points for every time that students participate in class, and encouraging more student participation in working out the examples, even at the cost of being able to go over fewer examples per class session. Bill Kalies is the official Master Teacher in the FAU math department, so I have been working with him to develop my teaching, and I invited him to sit in on my class a month or so into the semester.

The classrooms that I’m teaching in are very nice; they are in the business school building, which received funding from Office Depot. They feature whiteboards and opaque projectors (i.e. a digital video camera hooked up to a projector). Although I have a personal aesthetic preference for chalkboards, the whiteboards are nice, because they allow me to use different colors more easily — colored chalk is hard to erase. It’s also my first time teaching with whiteboards. Maybe by the end of the semester, I’ll prefer them over chalkboards. The opaque projectors are helpful, but they take a while to warm up, so I’m not sure how much I’ll use them.

The sections are about 35 students each, the same size as the sections that I taught at City College.

There are four total sections of Calc 2 at the main FAU campus this semester, and the other two sections are being taught by another Visiting Assistant Professor. He and I are planning to meet up irregularly to discuss teaching-related issues.

Logic course/seminar at FAU this fall

This post is being cross-posted on both my teaching and research blogs, since it lies somewhere in between. Katie Brodhead and I will be teaching a logic course/seminar this semester at FAU. The seminar will be meeting Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays from 3-4PM in the math lounge, room SE 215, beginning on Wednesday, September 4. I will generally be presenting on Mondays and Wednesdays, teaching an introductory course on large cardinals. The suggested prerequisite for my course is a graduate course or an advanced undergraduate course on logic. Katie will generally be presenting on Thursdays, teaching an introductory course on algorithmic randomness. The two courses are independent in terms of the content, but the participants will heavily overlap. Everybody reading this blog is welcome to attend my course. I would assume that Katie would say the same for hers, although you could contact her to be certain.

Teaching video

I recently found a video of my classroom teaching from my time at City College. It shows the first half of a college algebra class, in which I pass back homework, go over homework problems, collect homework, and teach a lesson about solving equations with radical expressions. You can view it here as a streaming video. Feel free to offer suggestions and feedback on my teaching style.